NAS Report on NRC’s Deficient Spent Fuel Pool Regulation Echoes UCS Criticisms (May 2016)

NRC Needs to Reconsider Moving Bulk of Spent Fuel from Cooling Pools to Dry Casks

WASHINGTON (May 20, 2016)—Today, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long-awaited report on the safety of the cooling pools that store some 75 percent of the spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites across the United States. The NAS concluded that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) activities to address spent fuel pool risks since the 9/11 attacks and the March 11, 2011, Fukushima disaster have been deficient in serious respects.

The NAS report clearly found fault with NRC’s approach to protecting spent fuel pools from severe accidents and terrorist attacks, and largely confirmed the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) longstanding concerns about the agency’s inadequate response to the danger of spent fuel pool fires. Significantly, the report criticized the regulatory analysis the NRC used to justify rejecting a proposal to expeditiously transfer spent fuel from pools to dry casks.

According to UCS Senior Scientist Edwin Lyman, the NRC needs to revisit that analysis to address the committee’s concerns. An analysis that gives proper weight to the potentially catastrophic consequences of a spent fuel pool fire, he said, would lead the NRC to rightly conclude that the benefits of expedited transfer would greatly outweigh the costs.

“The National Academy of Sciences has confirmed many of the concerns that we have expressed regarding the danger of spent fuel pool fires that could cause massive and long-term radioactive land contamination, whether caused by accidents or terrorist attacks,” said Lyman. “Now it’s time for the NRC to act decisively to protect Americans from a disaster that could dwarf the horrific consequences of the Fukushima accident.”

As posted at

Nuclear Industry: Germany urged to remove nuclear decommissioning hurdles to speed closures (May 2016)

Delays to cost allocations and waste site selections are impacting plans to start dismantling and decommissioning all of Germany’s plants by 2022, industry experts told Nuclear Energy Insider.

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After a series of setbacks, a federal government-appointed commission announced April 27 its recommendations for allocating clean-up costs between the state and nuclear power firms.

The Kommission zur Uberprufung des Kernenergieausstiegs (KfK) recommended nuclear operators transfer 23.3 billion euros ($26.4 billion), which includes a 35% risk-related premium to close the gap between provisions and costs, to a state fund. The government is not expected to formally accept the proposal and approve legislation to govern the fund until later this year.

Power utilities EnBW, E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall have already set aside around 38 billion euros for nuclear decommissioning and low-level waste disposal. In a joint statement, the firms said they could not accept the KfK’s proposal mainly due to what they called a “huge risk premium” which “overburdens the concerned energy companies’ economic capabilities.”

The firms said they were willing to accept a risk premium to enable a “consensus” during talks with the KfK, and had presented financial information while offering to go to their “utmost economic limits.” The KfK had exceeded these limits with its suggested risk premium, the operators said.

Europe’s power utilities have been under pressure from low power market prices amid growing renewable power supply. Moody’s downgraded RWE’s credit rating by one notch to Baa3/P-3 May 13, citing a weak power price environment and “the risk that the recent recommendation by the [KfK] that a significant premium should be paid by the German nuclear generators will be an additional financial burden for RWE.”

The ratings agency said “there is a good likelihood that, while there may be further negotiations on the final calculations of the underlying [nuclear] liabilities, a solution will be found and passed into law.”

The requirement to fund the externalized liabilities will reduce the operators’ financial flexibility and the premium will result in a direct additional debt burden of “several billion euros” for the nuclear industry, Moody’s said.

“Should an agreement not be reached and passed into law this year, Moody’s believes the issue will remain a significant overhang for the companies,” it said.

Delays to choosing final waste repository sites are also impacting decommissioning plans, which must be in place by 2022, the national deadline to phase out nuclear power set by Chancellor Merkel’s government after the Japanese Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Final waste holes

Dr Ralf Guldner, President of the German Atomic Forum, expressed concern earlier this month over the estimated timeframes for opening final waste repositories and called for a faster site selection process.

The Final Repository Commission, set up by the German Bundestag in 2014, is tasked with making recommendations for the final repository site selection process while developing selection criteria for the safe disposal of radioactive waste.

“The estimates for the start of operations at a repository stretch from 2045/50, as the earliest option, into the 2080s. Accordingly, it would only be possible to start on the closure of the final repository after the operating period, either in the 80s or only after 2130,” Guldner said in an address to the nuclear industry May 5.

“One of the main objectives in the management of radioactive waste is not to impose any unreasonable burdens on future generations. This objective cannot be reconciled with a process which may possibly take 150 years,” he said.

The Konrad mine near the city of Salzgitter has been identified for the storage of low and medium level waste, but additional sites are likely to be needed after Germany’s remaining plants close. The selection of a permanent site for high level material remains under discussion.

Ongoing site licensing issues and cost disputes are impeding efforts to find suitable interim storage facilities, which are currently built at reactor sites.

The delay of final repositories decisions is also hampering preparation for the interim storage phase of decommissioning, Sandra Kuehberger, Vattenfall GmbH spokeswoman, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“A major consideration is the impact of delayed decisions over all nationwide final repositories, including those for low and medium level radioactive waste. Delays are an issue because they have to be taken into consideration when planning interim waste solutions on site,” she said.

Vattenfall’s preparations for decommissioning are well underway. These include prioritizing the implementation of proven and existing automation processes that ensure safety and minimal exposure to radioactive material during the dismantling process, Kuehberger said.

Trimming costs

Germany is technically well prepared for the next stage of decommissioning, which involves taking steps towards automation and industrialization of processes, Franz Borrmann, Managing Director of consultancy firm iUS (Institut für Umwelttechnologien und Strahlenschutz GmbH), said.

Waste disposal costs are higher in Germany than elsewhere in Europe because the waste is buried in deep geological clay formations. Utilities tend to prioritize spending on minimizing the volume of waste to be treated and stored, Borrmann told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“Very low level contaminated material is decontaminated so it can be cleared as conventional waste or recycled material. This process is well defined and the clearance process is meticulously controlled by the authorities, which makes it expensive but ensures high standards,” he said.

To assist utilities in reducing decommissioning costs and improving efficiency, iUS delivers knowledge management and licensing strategies, radiation protection models and waste clearance training. Solutions include a digital tool, developed in collaboration with data integration specialist GmbH & Co KG, which centralizes information on specific plant processes.

The system can be tailor-made to meet existing knowledge management structures and can allow firms to respond to constantly changing decommissioning environments. It can provide a return-on-investment within a short period, Borrmann said.

Going forward, the clarification of waste disposal timelines should incentivize investments by firms looking to enter into Germany’s growing decommissioning market. These firms can provide additional innovation and help to drive down costs.

Nuclear Energy Insider, By Karen Thomas, May 17, 2016

Planned Nuke Dump Near Great Lakes Gets Pushback (May 2016)

A Canadian utility company’s proposal to store nuclear waste in a deep hole a short distance from Lake Huron has turned into a politically tricky problem for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

The proposed Deep Geologic Repository Project, would be used to store waste from three nuclear power plants operated by Ontario Power Generation, according to a 2015 government environmental report. The facility would consist of man-made caverns and tunnels with about 7 million cubic feet of storage space, carved into a limestone formation 2,230 feet under the ground.

The low-level waste that the utility wants to store deep in the ground includes materials such as protective clothing, floor sweepings, mops and rags, which can be stored safely without special protective measures, according to the report. But the site also would be a burial place for “intermediate” materials such as used reactor components, resins and filters from nuclear reactor operations. At present, the waste is being stored above-ground at one of the plants.

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In the report, Canadian regulators touted the project as a breakthrough in the safe storage of nuclear waste. “The proposed DGR is an important, unique, precedent-setting project. It would be the first of its kind in North America, and it is the first of its kind in the world to propose using limestone as the host rock formation,” they wrote

Nevertheless, the project — which has been in the works for more than a decade — remains controversial, in large part because the site would be about three quarters of a mile from the shores of Lake Huron.

While the repository got approval from Ontario officials last year, in February Trudeau’s new environment minister, Catherine McKenna, delayed approval of the project by asking the utility for more information.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), told Trudeau at a meeting in Washington in March that she wanted to see the project cancelled outright, according to accounts in the Detroit Free Press and the Washington Post. Trudeau reportedly declined to give her a definite answer.

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“All he said was that he truly cares about the environment,” she told the Post.

Dingell told the Post that the Canadian plan is more problematic than another long-delayed U.S. proposal to bury nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

“We’ve got to find a location that doesn’t impact large populations of people,” she told the newspaper. “A mountain that is in an isolated place is a better place than water that is 20 percent of the freshwater in the world.”

In January, a Canadian organization, Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, sent McKenna a petition with 90.000 signatures opposing the repository.

Canada gets about 15 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

May 17, 2016 05:39 PM ET // by Patrick J. Kiger , as posted at

The nuclear waste site at the heart of Canada’s wildfires (May 2016)

Just south of the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, in an area partly ravaged by flames, sits a nuclear waste site.

Situated at the extreme north of the Beacon Hill landfill tip, it contains some 42,500 m3 of radioactive minerals, including uranium and cesium.

But does it pose a threat to society today? According to information gained by euronews reporter Renaud Gardette, the site lies in the middle of the huge wildfires, blazing uncontrollably since May 1.

Why was the landfill created?

To understand the origins of the landfill site, we must first go back to 1982 when Canada launched an extensive exploration and containment of low-level radioactive land programme all over the territory. It was piloted by the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO).

In Fort McMurray, radioactive minerals were regularly discharged and used along the Northern Transportation Road. Built in the 1930s, the thoroughfare was initially used to transport uranium from the Port Radium mine (Northwest Territories) to Fort McMurray. From there, uranium was also transported by train to Port Hope, Ontario.

The Port Radium mine closed in 1960. Thefts and pillages occurred along the road and that is where the contamination is most visible.

The LLRWMO detected more radioactive sites around Fort McMurray. Work began in 1992 and, up to 2003, 42,500m3 of waste were sent to a specially-engineered landfill with a double layer of clay, several management systems, protection and monitoring, as well as a layer of earth and grass.

The site is monitored annually by the LLRWMO.

Does the site really exist?

The site’s existence is confirmed in several reports, including the Inventory of Radioactive Waste in Canada, published in 2012 by the LLRWMO.

What if?

Several questions have arisen. Was the site burnt in the wildfires? Have radioactive particles been emitted into the atmosphere? What is the risk to the environment?

For the moment, no specific warning has been triggered.

The response from the Canadian authorities

(Translated from French)

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and our Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office are responsible for managing historic low-intensity radioactive waste located in the Beacon Hill dump at Fort McMurray. The site is at the north end of the Beacon Hill landfill site, which itself is south of the city of Fort McMurray and west of Highway 63. The approximate coordinates are: 56 degrees 39 ’10 “ N, 111 degrees 20 ’56 “W.

  • CNL manages these sites on behalf of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, the federal corporation that is ultimately responsible for the safe management of historic low-intensity radioactive waste.
  • The low-intensity waste at Beacon Hill consists of uranium ore residue, mixed with soil and placed in isolation (in a separate cell), which is covered with a thick layer of low-permeability soil, then another, dense layer of clean earth. In total, there are at least 45 centimetres of clean soil over the contaminated soil.
  • According to the information available, it appears that the site was affected by the fires. That said, this does not pose any immediate risk to the health and safety of people and the environment. There are also no concerns about the physical integrity of the cell.
  • Given the composition of the contaminated soil, that is to say, ore residue mixed with earth, there is no risk that it will catch fire. In a similar way to a field or garden, fire can ignite the grass, but the earth itself does not catch fire.
  • We continue to monitor the situation closely.

EuroNews, a18/05 10:03 CET, s posted at

Feds focus on rail for moving Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel (May 2016)

VERNON — When it’s time to remove spent nuclear fuel from Vermont Yankee, it appears likely that will happen via rail, not trucks.

That was the takeaway last week for local officials and plant administrators after meeting with a visiting team from the U.S. Department of Energy. That team was in town to begin planning for the eventual transport of 3,880 radioactive fuel assemblies stored at the Vernon plant.

There is still no national, permanent storage site for such material, meaning federal officials cannot offer a firm schedule for a fuel move. But those who sat down with Department of Energy representatives say they now know more about what to expect when it happens.

“They said rail is the way to go for us,” said Joe Lynch, Entergy Vermont Yankee government affairs manager.

“They were very educational — very informative,” Lynch said of the Energy Department team. “They bring a lot of expertise to this.”

Vermont Yankee stopped producing power in December 2014, and its reactor was permanently defueled the following month. But all of the plant’s spent nuclear fuel remains in Vernon because the federal government has not yet delivered on its statutory obligation to create a permanent storage facility for radioactive waste.

It’s a nationwide problem that has led to legal wrangling and financial settlements between the federal government and plant owners who demanded reimbursement for the costs of storing and securing spent fuel. Entergy already has won a federal settlement of more than $40 million for fuel storage costs at Vermont Yankee, and administrators are seeking further reimbursement from the Department of Energy.

The latest and furthest advanced plan for a large-scale nuclear waste repository — Yucca Mountain in Nevada — stalled five years ago. In writing about the issue recently, Department of Energy officials summed it up this way: “Previous attempts to develop long-term solutions for storage and disposal of this waste have resulted in controversy, litigation, protracted delays and ultimately a failure to address the problem.”

There are hopes that a smaller-scale, interim storage facility might be developed. The Department of Energy in 2013 released a report calling for such a storage site, which would have “an initial focus on accepting used nuclear fuel from shut-down reactor sites” like Vermont Yankee.

Citizens groups in four New England states — including the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel — last year wrote a letter asking for congressional action on an interim storage facility for nuclear waste. And U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in February that he has seen signs of progress on that front.

No matter where the storage facility is constructed, the federal government must come up with a plan to get the fuel there. And that planning has begun, with Department of Energy representatives having traveled to more than a dozen shut-down nuclear plants to examine site conditions and available transportation infrastructure.

The first such federal survey of Vermont Yankee happened Tuesday through Thursday. An Energy Department spokesman didn’t comment on specifics of the visit, nor did he say whether any decisions have been made about a transport method.

The Department of Energy has said it is considering specially designed rail cars, heavy-haul trucks and barges for moving spent nuclear fuel. But those who were involved in the Windham County meetings said the visiting team was particularly interested in assessing railroad access here.

Officials looked closely at the tracks near the plant as well as the rail corridor extending south into Massachusetts. The Federal Railroad Administration also participated in the review, said Tony Leshinskie, Vermont’s state nuclear engineer.

“Overall, what they saw in the available infrastructure was very good,” Leshinskie said.

In addition to meeting with Entergy administrators and Leshinskie, federal officials also sat down with Windham Regional Commission representatives and members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. Kate O’Connor, the advisory panel’s chairwoman, said rail was discussed as the “preferred method” for removing Vermont Yankee’s fuel.

“The rail line here is really in good shape, and one of the other positive things about it is that it’s so close to where the (nuclear fuel storage) pads are,” O’Connor said.

Entergy’s Lynch added that “we do have a couple of rail spurs that come into the (plant) site.” Those haven’t been used for some time but could be upgraded; the idea is that rail cars could be loaded at the plant site, eliminating the need to use any trucks here.

Specific transportation plans aside, locals said they appreciated having a chance to meet Energy Department officials face-to-face and ask questions about what is sure to be a complicated, high-security process.

Previously, Windham Regional Commission Executive Director Chris Campany had expressed concerns that his agency had not been part of early fuel-move discussions.

“It was a very informative meeting, and I feel like we’re now in the loop,” Campany said after he and the commission’s transportation planner, Matt Mann, spoke with the Department of Energy team.

Officials said the meetings also included talk of the department’s ongoing development of a “consent-based” process aimed at finding communities that might want to host a fuel storage site. The Energy Department has been gathering public suggestions on how best to approach consent-based siting; a regional public meeting on the topic has been scheduled for June 2 in Boston.

While some see the consent-based siting study as a sign of positive momentum, it also underscores the point that no one can say for sure when there might be a destination for Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel.

Entergy’s decommissioning plan says all of the plant’s spent fuel will be removed by 2052. But some say it could take longer than that if federal lawmakers don’t find and then fund a permanent fuel storage facility.

“There’s a lot of factors that are out of control of the (Energy Department) people we met with,” O’Connor said. “Ultimately, figuratively and literally, the buck stops with Congress.”

May. 15, 2016, 2:55 pm by Mike Faher, Vermont Digger, as posted at

Nuclear whistleblower faces fresh charges, 30 years on

Among all the talk of whistleblowers as heroes – Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, the Panama Papers leaker – one is rarely mentioned.

Mordechai Vanunu came to Britain in 1986 to tell the Sunday Times the story of the nuclear weapons facility at Dimona in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

Walking around London, frustrated by the time the newspaper seemed to be taking to run his story, he was lured by âCindyâ, a woman from Mossad. They flew together to Italy where he was kidnapped, drugged, and smuggled out of the country to Israel.

He was sentenced to 18 years in jail for revealing details of Israelâs clandestine nuclear weapons programme. He spent more than a decade in solitary confinement.

He was released in 2004 but banned from speaking to foreigners without official permission, and prevented from leaving the country.

Last Sunday Vanunu, now 61, was charged with violating the terms of his release. He was charged with meeting two Americans at a hotel in east Jerusalem in 2013 without seeking permission to do so, with moving apartments in 2014 without notifying the police, and in 2015 for giving an interview to Israelâs Channel 2 TV in which he disclosed what was described as âclassified information that was cut out by the censorsâ.

As the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, pointed out, the information divulged by Vanunu was not new, as he had previously discussed it in the media.

But the conditions of his release forbid him from passing on any classified information, even if it has previously been published.

Israel has never acknowledged that it has a nuclear arsenal, instead maintaining a policy of ânuclear ambiguityâ while vowing that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East. It is widely reported to have at least 80 nuclear weapons.

Vanunu’s continuing persecution seems to be nothing short of vindictive. It is a touch ironic that nuclear weapons are supposed to deter. Surely, they can only do this if their possession is avowed.

Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Wednesday 11 May 2016

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Plan to store nuclear waste near Great Lakes proves radioactive (May 2016)

KINCARDINE, Ontario — If there was an off-key moment during the otherwise flawlessly executed trip to the U.S. Capitol this spring by the new Canadian prime minister,Justin Trudeau, it might have come when he was cornered by Rep. Debbie Dingell.

“We never want to see nuclear waste in the Great Lakes,” the freshman Democrat from Michigan sternly told Trudeau during a visit to the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Trudeau knew what Dingell was talking about. A few weeks earlier, his administration delayed an expected final ruling on whether Ontario Power Generation (OPG) could blast an area twice as big as the White House in a hole as deep as four Washington Monuments and then dump and seal inside 50 years’ worth of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste amassed by the province’s three nuclear power plants.

The material, which will take thousands of years to decay to levels that are not toxic, would reside beneath layers of rock that geologists say have not moved in tens of millions of years. The planned Deep Geological Repository is controversial in part because it would sit about a mile from the bottom of Lake Huron. And that has prompted widespread activism throughout the Great Lakes region among those who see the concept as too risky for the 40 million people who rely on this, the largest freshwater network in the world.

Trudeau has remained tight-lipped on the plan, much to the frustration of many in both the United States and Canada.

Jan Thomas, of Port Huron, holds a sign protesting a proposed nuclear waste dump site on Lake Huron, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015 during the International Rally to Protect the Great Lakes at Pine Grove Park in Port Huron, Mich. (Andrew Jowett/AP)

Dingell left her Trudeau visit, she said, a bit baffled and frustrated. “All he said was that he truly cares about the environment,” she said. “I didn’t know what to make of that. I’m not going to read into it. I just don’t know.”

The plan is supported by dozens of scientists, including those who participated in a government-appointed independent review panel that approved of the plan. The 2,231-foot hole would go far below the water table and into layers of rock so ancient that they have not moved in more than 50 million years, they say. It is the best solution available, they say, to ensure that the material, now stored in canisters at the surface, is kept away from humans well into the uncertain future.

That’s not enough for environmentalists and political leaders on both sides of the Great Lakes. “No matter what process is followed, abandoning radioactive nuclear waste in the Great Lakes basin will always be a bad idea,” said Beverly Fernandez, spokeswoman for Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, who lives in Southampton, Ontario, about 30 miles north of Kincardine.

The decision ultimately will fall to one person, Canada’s freshly installed environment minister, Catherine McKenna. The provincial government approved the plan last year after the independent review panel endorsed its safety. Now the federal government, specifically McKenna, must either green-light or kill it. She had promised to rule by March, but in February she asked OPG for more information; the utility said in April that it would comply by the end of the year.

OPG spokesman Bill McKinlay insisted that the company is “happy” to oblige McKenna, repeating the word more than a dozen times in 10 minutes.

“We’re happy to respond to them,” McKinlay said. “We’ve been open and transparent through this whole process, and we’re happy to do what we can to help people understand it.”

Opposition to the project, though, has swelled. More than 180 county boards, city councils and other local elected bodies near the Great Lakes in both countries have passed proclamations urging a veto of the plan. Dingell was among 32 members of Congress who signed a bipartisan letter to Trudeau asking him and McKenna to reject it. The GOP-dominated Michigan Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on the White House and Congress to intervene under the Boundary Waters Treaty. (The White House referred questions to the State Department, which declined to comment on the issue.)

Some of those U.S. politicians, though, support the long-delayed effort to bury the United States’ high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, outside Las Vegas.

Dingell doesn’t see that as a contradiction. “This is different,” she said. “We’ve got to find a location that doesn’t impact large populations of people. A mountain that is in an isolated place is a better place than water that is 20 percent of the freshwater in the world. If there’s a leak or an accident at Yucca Mountain, it’s in an isolated area.”

Yet for Canada, like the United States, the issue remains one of the biggest headaches for nuclear power generation. Nuclear power is one of the cleanest, cheapest sources of energy, especially in places like Ontario, where coal-burning power plants were banned in 2003. But the conundrum of what to do with the waste persists, even after more than half a century of nuclear-fueled electricity.

Low-level waste includes mops, brooms and clothing, which are expected to reach safe radioactive levels in about a century. Intermediate-level waste includes hardware such as pumps, filters and other machinery that has been in direct contact with nuclear fuel and won’t return to safe levels for at least 10,000 years. (High-level waste includes spent uranium fuel rods; such material would not be sent to the planned repository.)

The Bruce Energy facility here in Kincardine is the world’s largest nuclear-power-generation site, with eight of the province’s 20 nuclear reactors. Since the early 1970s, the Bruce site has stored the low- and intermediate-level waste for all of Ontario’s power plants in above-ground bunkers and vaults, which are evidenced only by dozens of cement caps of various shapes arrayed in neat rows across a concrete plain near the reactor buildings. OPG and Bruce officials have long assured the public that such storage is safe, and they’re not backing away from that contention.

Yet it is an expensive long-term solution that relies on hundreds of future generations to maintain and defend it. “You look at parts of the world that seem to go from reasonable governments to chaos, and I don’t think you can predict what kind of society will exist hundreds or thousands of years from now,” said Derek Martin, a professor of geotechnical engineering at the University of Alberta and a key member of the research team that developed the plans for the Kincardine site. “When you look at the geological history of the area, it’s been so benign in geological activity in the last tens of millions of years. I don’t know how you could find a safer place to put it.”

The city of Kincardine, which received more than 600,000 Canadian dollars (about $465,000) a year between 2004 and 2014 for agreeing to host the repository — the stipends stopped after opposition grew and progress stalled — stands to benefit from additional regular payments as well as new jobs.


By Steve Friess, Washington Post, May 16 2016, as posted at